8 Tips for Communicating with Your Loved One with Dementia

Dementia Infographic

When a loved one has dementia, knowing how to connect with them through communication is not always easy.  Your loved one may have trouble expressing their ideas, they may struggle to find the right words or they may repeat the same words or phrases over and over, and due to these difficulties, it may make you unsure of how to communicate with them.

At Concordia, we have a lot of experience in caring for those with dementia and want you to know there are ways to more effectively communicate with your loved one with dementia.  While not every conversation may be easy, there can be moments when you feel you’ve meaningfully connected, and those moments make it worth the effort. If you’re in this situation, here are some tips for communicating with your loved one:

1) Be Supportive – Your loved one may feel confused, anxious and unsure of themselves at times. They may not be able to express themselves properly, but can still experience feelings and emotions. Imagine how that must feel, and offer your support. You can verbally tell them it’s ok to take their time, that you understand and you’re there for them, or you can use a physical expression of comfort such as holding hands or hugging.

2) Stay Calm – Communicating with a loved one that has dementia can be frustrating. They may take longer to respond or make confusing statements, and your patience is the key to let your loved one know you’re listening and trying to understand. If you get frustrated, take a moment to step away from the situation, rather than show it in front of your loved one.

3) Bring Back Memories – Believe it or not, your loved one with dementia will likely have a better memory of events from their childhood compared to what happened an hour ago. Instead of asking them questions from their short-term memory, try asking them general questions from years ago. Especially focus on memories that bring them joy.

4) Get Their Attention – You can help to get your loved one’s attention by limiting distractions and noise. For example, turn off the TV or radio, shut the window or if others are noisy around you, move to a quiet area. Also, addressing them by their name and using nonverbal cues such as touching their hand and eye contact can help them stay focused.

5) Be Respectful – It’s important to show your loved one respect.  While they may need a different level of help than before, it’s important to avoid communicating with them as if they were a child.  Also, if talking about them in the same room, don’t assume they can’t hear you because they may still understand what you’re saying.

6) Give Step-by-Step Instructions – If you’re helping your loved one with an activity, make it more manageable for them by breaking it down by step. If you give them multiple steps in a row, they may feel overwhelmed. Also, be prepared to repeat yourself to help them along.

7) Let Minor Misstatements Go – If your loved one makes a wrong statement or says something confusing, it’s okay to let it go.  Every person is affected by dementia to a different degree, but it’s common that there will be times when they say something that might not make sense to you. If you’re concerned that what they’re saying is wrong for their own wellbeing, you can repeat what they said for clarification, but avoid arguing, criticizing or correcting them.

8) Understand What to Expect – Learning what dementia entails and how it may affect your loved one is important to communicate with them effectively.  Even though each person with dementia experiences it differently, there are symptoms that are fairly common.  For example, they might forget everyday facts such as names, dates and places, have difficulty presenting rational ideas and lose normal social conventions. Knowing this may help you gain a different perspective and adjust your approach. Look for dementia caregiver support groups in your area as well. At Concordia, we have several of these support groups open to the public: 1) On the second Tuesday of each month at 2 p.m. in the Adult Day Services Center at Concordia at Cabot; and 2) On the fourth Thursday of each month at 1 p.m. at Concordia of Fox Chapel.

We understand that communicating with someone who has dementia can be difficult, but we hope that our tips can help put you at ease and allow you to connect with your loved one. If you have experience communicating with a loved one with dementia, please share your thoughts or additional tips below.

Are you looking for ways to help your loved one with dementia? If so, learn about our Memory Care services. If you have a question about how we can help your loved one or want to learn more about the different services we offer, contact us any time via our online contact form or by calling our administrative headquarters at 724-352-1571. Or, visit the care levels & services page of our website to learn about the types of care we offer, including In-Home CareLong-Term Nursing Care, Adult Day ServicesHospice Care and more.

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